The Race for City Hall: A new mayoral election roundup from the AJC

A weekly look into the Atlanta mayor’s race and the issues that matter to voters

Welcome to The Race for City Hall, your insider’s guide to the 2021 Atlanta mayoral campaign from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Each week, we’ll bring you the latest news, updates, and analysis in the wide-open race for mayor, as well as key City Council contests.

As your hosts, AJC reporters Wilborn P. Nobles III and J.D. Capelouto, we’ll give you the inside track on the latest developments and provide you with a heads up on what to watch for ahead of Election Day.

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We’ll also be following the issues — from crime to transportation to housing — and where the candidates stand on them. And we’re talking to voters in neighborhoods across the city about what they are looking for from the city’s next leaders.

With Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms passing on a reelection bid and a slate of candidates joining the race, it’s a busy year in Atlanta politics. We’ll be watching every development, cutting through the noise to give you the information and analysis you need in a whirlwind election season.

We’ll be back with another roundup next week — in the meantime, feel free to send any questions or story tips to jdcapelouto@ajc.com and wilborn.nobles@ajc.com.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Here’s what this election season could look like: In-person events are back and campaigns will still be canvassing door-to-door, but expect to see more masks and social distancing as the contagious delta variant spreads.

We checked with all of the major mayoral candidates on how they are navigating the changing safety guidelines surrounding COVID-19 during a campaign season that was on track to seem like a return to normal, until the delta variant emerged.

Large, in-person fundraisers are still on, but campaigns may implement masks and temperature checks, and hold some outdoors. This past Friday, for example, Kasim Reed gathered with supporters at Tyler Perry studios for a high-dollar fundraiser.

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Speaking of Reed, the claws are out when it comes to the federal corruption scandal that engulfed his administration’s later years.

Candidates are beginning to more directly target the former two-term mayor, who is considered the frontrunner in the race thanks to his name recognition and fundraising advantage.

Councilman Andre Dickens fired criticism at Reed at a recent candidate forum: “Corruption is a crime … We can’t have a mayor that can fight crime in the city of Atlanta when they’re facing federal investigation.”

It was one of the soundbites of the night, and technically applied to two of his competitors — Councilman Antonio Brown is under federal indictment for alleged wire fraud; and Reed, who is the subject of a probe for alleged campaign finance violations. But the other mayoral hopefuls are also surely hoping to dent Reed.

Later on in the forum, Dickens followed up on that messaging by saying that delays on transportation projects could be traced back to a “cloud of corruption” that slows down the procurement process. Council President Felicia Moore also got in on the action. The former councilwoman, who publicly sparred with Reed over various ethics issues when he was mayor, said her administration “won’t have the corruption that could slow down projects.”

Reed, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, touted his experience as he hit back, saying “everybody’s talking about money that I secured.”

Look for the candidates to take more and more public — and direct — shots at Reed as the race heats up.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

More candidates are still jumping into the race for mayor, though their campaigns might not have as much money, visibility, or name recognition as the leading hopefuls.

Raina Bell-Saunders entered the race in July because she wants to restore peace to Atlanta’s neighborhoods and to give a voice to those who have been “left out and left behind” on the issues of crime, gentrification and property taxes, according to her press release.

Buckhead-based businesswoman Rebecca King, the CEO of insurance documentation firm Cover Your Assets, said she jumped in the race because she is “disappointed with the amount of violent crime taking place,” per a press release.

Another first-timer, Richard N. Wright, owns “Accounting Done Wright CPA” and promised to address systemic crime and wealth inequality with people-first, pro-business policies.

And Davonta “Sully” Sullivan is running as Atlanta’s “first and youngest Black Republican” candidate, he said. His central issues are crime, homelessness, traffic congestion, small business restoration, public safety support and business cannabis dispensaries.

We’ll have a complete list of who will be on the ballot when qualifying ends Aug. 20.

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Sharon Gay, a Dentons attorney who hasn’t held elected office before, is hoping to break through the field of candidates with a new crime plan that includes creating a mayoral executive assistant whose “singular focus” is to work with public safety officials citywide and statewide to address crime. Cedric Alexander, her public safety advisor, joined Gay in saying that new blood is needed in every public safety department. Gay also said she is worried that businesses are using political clout to avoid penalties for their role in criminal activities, so she wants to review the city’s licensing and permits department too.

“You can have 10,000 police officers and that’s not going to prevent all crime,” Gay said.

Brown and Dickens recently released plans of their own centered around public safety.

What’s coming up:

- On Monday, a City Council committee is expected take a closely watched vote on the controversial plan to lease up to 350 acres of forested land in unincorporated DeKalb to the Atlanta Police Foundation to build a new training center for police officers and firefighters. Both Brown and Dickens sit on that committee, and Moore could weigh in as well. Our colleague Anjali Huynh has a preview of that discussion.

- We’re one week away from the official qualifying period, when candidates for mayor and City Council must formally sign up to run to make sure their names are on the ballot. Candidates have from Aug. 17 to 20 to register.

(Fun fact: It costs $5,529 to run for mayor; but if you can’t pay that, you can qualify as a “pauper” with a petition signed by at least 1% of the eligible voters in Atlanta.)

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Some stories you may have missed this week:

Gov. Brian Kemp, a first-term Republican, has stoked his conservative base by framing Bottoms as a do-nothing mayor who has let crime get out of hand. Bottoms, a Democrat who was a campaign surrogate for President Joe Biden, has hit right back, calling Kemp’s COVID response “reckless” and deadly. The leading contenders for mayor promise a fresh take at city-state relations.

Meanwhile, neighborhood zoning might not be something Atlantans think about every day, but for some voters, the issue could be top of mind when they select the city’s next mayor this November.

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Again, please send any questions, story tips or beer recommendations to reporters, jdcapelouto@ajc.com and wilborn.nobles@ajc.com. We’re open to any and all suggestions for how to make this roundup better for you.

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Your reporters:

WILBORN NOBLES III

Wilborn P. Nobles III covers the Atlanta mayor's policies for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Wil (not "Willie" or "William") previously covered Baltimore County government at The Baltimore Sun, but he never finished "The Wire." He also covered education for the Times-Picayune in his hometown of New Orleans, so he tries to avoid discussions about football. Wil used to play tuba for his high school marching band, but he eventually put down his horn to intern at The Washington Post. The Louisiana State University graduate enjoys gardening, comedy, and music.

Wilborn.Nobles@ajc.com

J.D. CAPELOUTO

J.D. Capelouto is a local news reporter covering City Hall and all things intown Atlanta for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His work focuses the City Council, neighborhood issues, public safety, housing and transportation. J.D. was born and raised in Atlanta and has lived in the city all his life, except for four years at Boston University, where he studied journalism and learned how to dress for cold weather. He’s been with the AJC since 2018, and has previously written for The Boston Globe and the Thomson Reuters Foundation. When he’s not reporting or scrolling through Twitter, J.D. enjoys pop culture podcasts, “Survivor” and visiting various pools around Atlanta.

Joseph.Capelouto@ajc.com